Hard Truths About Obama's Hard Truths

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THE PLANK FEBRUARY 19, 2008

Hard Truths About Obama's Hard Truths

It wouldn't be a primary night if I didn't say something specifically about health care. And, once again, I have to take issue with a line of Obama's rhetoric. 

During his speech, Obama said, as he's said before, that America needs a president willing to tell Americans what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear.  He's right.  And, on the specific example he cited -- demanding higher mileage standards from American automakers -- he can make that claim legitimately.  As I recall, he really did go to Detroit and really did say that.  And he really did get very little applause for it.

But on health care, well, the story is a little different.  Clinton is the one who has made the arguments for an individual mandate -- that is, requiring that everybody obtain health insurance.  It's a politically treacherous argument: Nobody likes the government telling people what to do.  But -- for reasons I've stated previously -- such a requirement is also essential if you want a shot at universal coverage through a system based on private insurance. (With a single-payer system, you could just enroll everybody automatically, but neither she nor Obama are talking about that.)

What's more, Obama is the one who has gone for easy political points by attacking Clinton over the mandate. Remember, he's the one who sent out that reprehensible mailer suggesting, wrongly, that Clinton would make people buy unaffordable health insurance -- and illustrating its case with a clear knock-off of the Hillary and Louise commercials. 

Clinton's campaign has obviously had its less glorious moments, as well.  (Plagiarism?  Are they serious?)  But this is a pretty big issue, maybe the biggest domestic issue of the election.  And Obama's treatment of it has been pretty disappointing. 

--Jonathan Cohn

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posted in: the plank, health, labor, social issues, clinton

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